WHO emergency COVID-19 vaccine listing aims to lift access in more countries
Syringes are seen in front of displayed Biontech and Pfizer logos. /Reuters

Syringes are seen in front of displayed Biontech and Pfizer logos. /Reuters

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday granted emergency validation to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, paving the way for countries worldwide to quickly approve its import and distribution.

The United Nations health agency said it will work with regional partners to tell national health authorities about the two-dose shots and their anticipated benefits.

The WHO established its emergency use listing (EUL) process to help more countries, especially poorer countries, without their own regulatory resources quickly approve medicines for new diseases like COVID-19, which otherwise could lead to delays.

The WHO's review found Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine met the "must-have" criteria for safety and efficacy benefits outweigh its risks.

"This is a very positive step towards ensuring global access to COVID-19 vaccines," said Mariangela Simao, the WHO's access to medicines program leader.

"But I want to emphasize the need for an even greater global effort to achieve enough vaccine supply to meet the needs of priority populations everywhere."

WHO, with the GAVI Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), are spearheading a global effort called COVAX to secure and distribute vaccines to poorer countries, to ensure shots do not go only to wealthy nations.

The WHO-backed COVAX alliance has agreements for nearly two billion doses, with first deliveries due in early 2021. The alliance has been in talks with Pfizer and BioNTech to secure vaccine.

Even so, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine's challenging storage and delivery requirements, including keeping it at minus 70 degrees Celsius, have made deliveries challenging in western countries, and may pose bigger hurdles for developing nations without adequate infrastructure.

The vaccine has gotten regulatory backing from the UK, the European Medicines Agency, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Health Canada, Bahrain, Israel, Kuwait, Mexico, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

Pfizer and BioNTech's messenger RNA vaccine was found to be 95 percent effective after two doses 21 days apart.

Several other COVID-19 vaccines are also being weighed by some countries to help curb the spreading of coronavirus.

Brazil may soon approve emergency-use of Oxford-AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine after UK gave it the green light on Wednesday, as the vaccine can be stored, transported and handled at normal refrigerated conditions and is cheaper than the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

India is also expected to approve the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use in a few days. 

The first batch of three million doses of China's SinoVac COVID-19 vaccine arrived in the Turkish capital Ankara early Wednesday after Turkey's trials proves the vaccine is 91.25 percent effective.

Pakistan will also purchase 1.2 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from China's Sinopharm, a minister said on Thursday, the first official confirmation of a vaccine purchase by the South Asian country as it battles a second wave of infections.

China's Medical Products Administration on Wednesday granted conditional marketing authorization to a COVID-19 vaccine developed by the Beijing Biological Products Institute Co., Ltd. under the China National Biotec Group (CNBG), which is affiliated with Sinopharm.

Read more: 

China to provide COVID-19 vaccines to the world at reasonable price: spokesperson

China to provide free COVID-19 vaccine to residents

Pakistan to purchase 1.2 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from China's Sinopharm

(With input from Reuters and AFP)

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